Shenyang Travel Blog› entry 5 of 16 › view all entries
A banquet in China is an extravagant and complicated affair. The setting is always magnificent, the food is abundant and spectacular, and the length is long. You can never do a banquet in a hurry. Most business in China is conducted over a banquet even though the business itself may never be discussed. Like a skillful game of strategy, it is about prestige, honour, giving face, alliance and securing favour. In most cases, the actual food has little to do with the purpose of the banquet. In fact, a banquet is not about the food at all. The first strategy is in the seating arrangement. The most honoured guest (either by age or rank) is always seated facing the door (from an old tradition, so that a guest could not be ambushed or surprised from an enemy approaching through the door), so where you are seated will instantly indicate the purpose of the banquet and your role of importance.
The food will always be spectacular. It is not uncommon to be offered 20 (or more) elaborate and expensive dishes. The expense of the meal will also indicate prestige and honour. You will be expected to try everything. Never ask what it is (this would be impolite) but always appear to be impressed. Don't pile too many things on your plate.
The serving of fruit signifies that the banquet is ending. Be prepared for a long night and always wait until the host announces the end of the banquet before leaving the table. Pay a compliment by demonstrating just how full you are, "I am so full, I couldn't eat another thing."
Relationship is the real purpose of any banquet.
There are many purposes for a banquet. It may be a time for your hosts or another guest to check out your character, your acceptance of the culture, to call in a favour, or just to express how much they like you, or how successful the business will be. As relaxed as the night appears, don't be too relaxed. Joke, have fun, eat too much, drink too much and enjoy, but never underestimate the importance of such a strategic event.
If the banquet goes well, don't be surprised if you are then taken for a massage (foot or body). This is probably one of the most important signals that the banquet has gone well.
Some tips to survive a banquet.
1. Be comfortable (it's going to be a long night)
2. Drink alot of water or tea.
3. Make sure you toast everyone. Don't leave anyone out.
4. Don't ask to take any leftovers home. (it would insult the host and look as if you didn't eat enough).
5. Only eat one type food at a time. Never piling things on your plate.
6. Don't eat everything on the plates. Leave some on the plates.
7. Pace yourself. Don't eat too much in the first servings.
8. Learn to eat with chopsticks. Don't ask for a spoon, fork or knife.
9. Be prepared for smoke. There will always be cigarettes offered. (of course you can decline the offer to smoke, but be aware that everyone else around you will be smoking so be prepared for red eyes and smoky-smelling clothes and hair).
10. Accept everything that is offered.
11. Don't be too quick to hand out business cards. Only do so if others do this first. A banquet is not the place to appear to do business.
12. Take lots of photos. It is a way to give face, but will also help you remember who was who later on.
13. Don't schedule anything too early the next morning.